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Musical Energy in Performance

Discussion in 'Off Topic [DB]' started by Sam Sherry, Mar 17, 2003.


  1. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Until very recently, I took the same approach. But a post by Mr. Fuqua led me to the highly-inspirational website of Hal Galper, cryptically entitled www.HalGalper.com. Hal's comments literally opened my eyes to ways I could improve musically which involve audience interaction. (I'd been doing much of my playing with my eyes shut for years!)

    I ain't talkin' about James Taylor here. Like Ed, I love to play and I'm happy to play at home. But, I'm no longer completely oriented toward the "Audience Doesn't Matter At All" pole.
     
  2. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    At the risk of dragging this thread further off-topic:

    Ed, per usual, I agree with you. I wasn't talking about changing or pandering to the audience to get that big bang. In fact, I wasn't talking about Hal's "Social Contract" article. It was "My Time With Cannonball" that connnected with me so hard:

    ". . . when I joined Cannon's band I was ready. The group's primary goal was to capture the audience's attention and give them a good time. They didn't leave it up them to come to us. We came to them. It was as if a wall of energy was coming off the bandstand. The audience didn't have a chance. For me, the challenge was to learn how to open those inner doors that released the level of energy necessary to match the band's output. This energy output had to be controlled so that you didn't use it all up in the first set; it had to last for the whole night. It had to be released in an "easy" manner so that your own energy wouldn't excite you. I also had to deal with the energy that the other band members were putting out. To find a way to deflect it so it didn't get me excited and loose control. The band was great at that. They played in such a way that most of their energy was directed out into the audience and didn't stay on the bandstand where it could affect the other players. It was then that I learned the secret of how energy can be directed. Energy goes where you "think" it's going. If you don't "think" about where it is going it will stay on the bandstand and only affect the other players without being communicated to the audience. In order think of my energy as going outward from the bandstand, I'd pick a point in the back of the room, a lamp or door or a person, that I could "aim" if you will, my energy toward. Eventually it became an automatic response."

    My own energy had been getting in my way. Now, I work on it. That's all.
     
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    On the other hand, if you play in a variety of styles and even genres and you can make at least some meaningful music in all of them, what's wrong with focusing your energy on the ones that fit the particular situation? I don't think I'd want to try whipping out "Miles Chases the Voodoo Down" at some of the places I play, but there's still plenty of fun to be had regardless.
     
  4. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Thanks, O Exemplar of Moderation, for splitting this topic off. And thanks Ed for the impetus to keep it going. This is going to be a windy post because there's a lot to say.

    I've been playing jazz bass for about 30 years, DB for 25. Because I performed a ton as a kid, I learned as a kid to deal turn nervous energy into a constructive force onstage. But like anybody who makes most of their jazz playing cocktails, functions and bar gigs, I also learned that most people in cocktail, function or bar gig really didn't care lots about what I was doing. And (as Ed bears out) I was very wary of pandering to the audience to wake them up and get that Big Audience Kaching For Sam. The result was that, until I read Hal Galper's piece, when the band was playing, I focused my energy entirely on the bandstand. To open my ears, I would close my eyes, or focus on a bass-drum spur or sax-key or some thing. I rarely looked at players while playing, except for cues. I didn't avoid or engage the audience while playing. And that worked fine.

    About three years ago I started seeking out concerts for my band, playing my tunes. At the same time, I started bringing people whose records I had dug as a kid to town, with my band as the backup trio. Lucky me -- these are some pretty heavy players, they put out some DAMN SERIOUS energy, and I was positively worked up to be with them, too. But I found that more and more, in those settings, my own nervous energy was impeding me from ultimate performance.

    A few months ago I read Galper's piece about his time with Cannon, and things hit home. While I had seen great jazz musicians push energy off the stand -- while I had even worked with them when they did it -- I had always felt that "directing energy" was too touchy-feely for rational old me. But how could I argue with Hal? I decided to give it a try.

    What, asks Ed, have I been doing? I simply do not let myself play with my eyes closed anymore. I don't use inanimate fixation-points anymore. Those are habits I needed to break. Instead, I try to be engaged with my eyes as well as with my ears. When I'm not engaging musicians on the stand, I engage people in the audience. I try to push that energy out off the stand while I'm doing it. It's interesting, because I see that the other guys I'm playing with usually are not engaging the audience. That's their choice, and who am I to tell them what to do?

    Although I am at the very beginning of this effort, the results have been noticeable and positive for me. I feel more in control throughout the night. I am beginning to feel like I have more to offer in the last set of the night -- I've always felt that I was a better "first set" player, dissipating too much energy too early, as Hal notes. Simply, this feels like the next step I need to take in my development as a performer.

    And, although this is my effort for my own reasons, audience members have really noticed. People think I'm playing better. I don't agree, but the point is that the audience is getting more out of my playing and the band as a whole even though that is not my primary goal.

    Questions? Comments? Catcalls? Suggestions for worms to eat?
     
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I hear you, but I still play with my eyes closed except when checking in with the other players for cues and/or making sure that everybody's digging the groove. Engaging the audience - to me - is for in between tunes and breaks. My problem has always been the opposite of yours...if I don't focus my entire energy on SOUND, I get distracted and lose my focus. But I'm also with you on learning to pace myself better and using the time in between tunes and on breaks to relax, chill out, and smile when the situation calls for it.

    Oh, and waxworms are pretty good if you dice them small enough and serve them as an appetizer with an appropriate wine.
     
  6. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Maui
    This thread is the s***. Thanks guys, especially for the Hal Galper link. I love the Bob Moses letter over there. I was the recipient of his generosity a few years ago. We were on a break at a recording session, and he gave me an hourlong example of how to correctly play calypso rhythms. Later that night, onstage, he tore me a new one in a most pleasant way. He was not only playing to the very back of the room, but through the wall and a couple miles up the slopes of Haleakala out back! I'll never forget that.
     
  7. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    We agree. I'm sorry that I wasn't clear. I have not changed my playing. I am not asking for anything or actively receiving anything from the audience. Unlike singer-songwriters, rockers etc. who pander to and live off the audience's energy. That's their choice, but that ain't me and it sure ain't jazz in Maine.

    I am trying to use the audience to disburse my energy. In the process, they feel more engaged. That's good for them, but it's not my main goal. And that's the difference.
     
  8. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    The possibilities seem to be:
    a) You have a greater capacity for handling nervous energy internally than me. You just don't need this.
    b) You project nervous energy without being conscious of doing so.
    c) All this energy-projection shtuff is so much hooey and people (like me) who say they're doing it are fooling themselves.
    d) You're missing something that could help.

    All I can tell you is that for years I handled performance energy internally, and it worked. Then I encountered performers with a lot more energy than I was used to, and it didn't, so I'm trying something new.

    Lao-Tse was wise. But then and now, there are people who seek to impose their will on others. I think of Mingus Fables of Faubus:
    M: "Why are they so sick, and ridiculous, Danny?"
    R: "2 4 6 8 They brain-wash and teach you hate!"
     
  9. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    I may never get used to talking about "energy projection" without supressing a giggle. I suspect I'm not alone. All you DB posters did not poke fun of the topic. Thanks, folks.

    Ed, your post about Galper got me steering in a direction that helped. Thanks again.

    Kumbah-yah! Play on!